Adapting a true story to the screen is a feat that takes a lot of guts. By that fact alone director Baltasar Kormakur is made of steel, as he's back in theaters this week with Adrift, a film based on the real life struggle of recreational sailors Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, during a trip gone awry. Much like his previous Hollywood film, Everest, Kormakur tackles the survival instinct and the hardships that sometimes go with humanity's interaction with the elements; and it's an improvement from his prior effort.
Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) are two souls drifting through the world of sailing, who find each other one random day in 1983. That chance encounter will lead them to five months of love, and the biggest disaster of their lives, as they cross paths with the infamous Hurricane Raymond. What starts as a dire situation turns into a determined drive to live, as the couple will do all they can in the name of survival for an extended period of time.
Adrift is a captivating story of true-life survival, and it succeeds mostly thanks to the the intense performances given by Woodley and Claflin. While the film's story is mostly focused on the disaster survival aspect of their ill-fated voyage, it's the moments where Woodley and Claflin are falling in love that really shine. Their chemistry on the screen, both dramatically and romantically, is undeniable, and their efforts lift this film up in pieces that don't particularly hold up. Even in the worst of times, Tami and Richard are a couple you believe could stick with each other through thick and thin, and it helps to sell the swift two hour drama through any obstacles it encounters.
One such obstacle that drags down Adrift's otherwise stellar efforts is the editing of the film, which jumps erratically between the flashbacks of Tami and Richard's courtship before the storm and Tami's efforts to save herself and Richard post-shipwreck. If the film had started with the wreck that strands our sailors on the seas, and jumped between both halves of their lives, the narrative would have been more cohesive. However, even then, there would still be moments that cut too quickly between both halves of the story. Not to mention, there's a reveal in Adrift that is a pretty effective twist, that ultimately trips over itself by spelling everything out in a painfully detailed fashion.
None of that is enough to totally sink Adrift, as the film had me glued to the screen throughout its running time, even during the pieces that weren't so smartly edited. That's in great part to having frequent Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese collaborator Robert Richardson serving as the film's cinematographer. The images on display throughout are so skillfully crafted that your eyes can't help but drink it all in. Your eyes won't move from the screen, even during some of the more intense moments of bodily and ship-based disaster Adrift has to offer.
Balthasar Kormakur's fascination with nature-versus-man dramas brings the age old conflict on display to life in such harrowing detail. There are moments in Adrift that make you wonder how this film didn't get a release in a more immersive format. While there's some issues with the editing that disrupt the flow of Adrift's narrative, the luminary performances from Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin keep the audience invested in a thrilling tale of life and death on the high seas.